Women receiving intravenous infusion of biologic drugs at clinic.
• What Are Biologic Drugs?
Rheumatoid Arthritis Guide
|What Are Biologic Drugs?
They are injectable medications that contain powerful ingredients which have revolutionized the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Sometimes called biologic DMARDs (Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs) or just, biologics, they do not cure rheumatoid arthritis, but they do reduce symptoms and may help prevent joint damage. On the downside, they are very expensive and can cause serious side effects, so biologics should not be prescribed until all other conventional rheumatoid arthritis medications have been tried. That includes ibuprofen, corticosteroid injections and nonbiologic DMARDs such as Plaquenil, Azulfidine, Minocin and Dynacin. Between 40 and 70 percent of patients who do not experience enough symptom-relief with these medications, will do so with biologics. To date, only about 600,000 people worldwide have taken biologics.
Note: Injection means you can inject yourself (subcutaneously) with a prefilled injection pen. Intravenous injections need to be given in a doctor's office.
Yes. Some have to be administered by a healthcare worker into the vein in the arm (intravenously), while others can be self-injected under the skin (subcutaneously), like insulin injections for diabetics. Which type of injection you need, and how often, depends on the drug you have been prescribed (see chart above). If you are not comfortable with self-injecting, talk to your doctor about an intravenous medication.
Biologics are chemical agents that are designed to prevent or reduce inflammation in the joints. The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown, but it is thought to be the result of a faulty immune system. The immune system turns against the body and attacks healthy joints and tissues (this is called autoimmunity). There are lots of different types of autoimmune diseases - with rheumatoid arthritis it results in the tissues inside the joints being attacked, causing inflammation and ultimately destroying the joint itself. Biologics help by blocking certain actions in the immune system, so that misdirected attacks occur less frequently. The downside however is that a suppressed immune system will make the patient prone to all sorts of infections.
Some studies show that patients report improved symptoms within 4 to 6 weeks of treatment. But most patients taking Remicade, Enbrel or Humira notice significant improvement after the first or second injection.
Studies indicated that the following 3 drugs are as effective as, or better, than the others at relieving rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. They also have fewer side effects:
The vast majority of people (as many as 97 percent) taking biologics experience at least one side effect. These can range from the minor to more serious life-threatening disorders.
Reducing Your Risks
The risk to unborn babies has not yet been established. For this reason, if you are planning on having a baby, you should not take biologics.
You should not be prescribed biologic if:
Biologics are expensive. The average monthly cost (if you are paying yourself with no insurance coverage) is between $1,600 and $2,800. Manufacturers of the drug insist the cost of producing the active biologic agent in the medication is very high, and hence the reason for the high cost of the drug to the end user.
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